“My name is Rina Risper. When I was just out of high school I found a lump in my breast.” I told the group of young ladies who were sitting before me.
Quite by luck, I had the pleasure of speaking with a beautifully spirited woman on the phone trying to get information about how I could get help bringing Dr. Rick Kittles, who is a prostate cancer researcher to Lansing.
I could actually see her smiling on the other end of the line. Dr. Karen Patricia Williams, Ph.D., Assistant Professor Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Biology, Michigan State University was the person I had the luck to reach. She was informative and kind. That really stuck with me and we kept in contact with one another.
One day out of the blue during one of our conversations, I began to tell her about my fears of breast cancer. I had not spoke to anyone about it in years. I did not want to think about it. After telling my story to her she invited me to speak at a Teen Workshop.
The Links, Inc., Lansing /East Lansing Chapter had a workshop entitled African American Women’s Breast Health & Wellness Project at Sparrow Professional Building on February 7, 2004.
I was a speaker along with Lorraine J. Weatherspoon, Ph.D. who was the Interim Director of the Dietetics Program and Assistant Professor at Michigan State University in the Department of Food Science and Human
Yes, I must say myself that is a mouthful but Dr. Weatherspoon broke it down. She had me wondering why I ever ate white bread instead of wheat.
Because of her speech that day, I now order my condiments (mayonaisse and
ketchup) on the side. I also only order what I know I will eat, instead of upsizing my order, I just order a small portion and water.
I was amazed at the impact that she had on me, and I was one of the speakers. An expert in nutrition and it’s impact on chronic diseases that affects African Americans is more of what we need to see on today’s talk shows. If you want alarming death rates health issues in African Americans
rank high, and most of the issues are preventable and treatable.
I was up next after, Dr. Weatherspoon, a bit nervous but all right. I knew some of the people there and felt comfortable. I had spoken to Roni Ruckers Waters before, whom is very much into the education of health issues in the African American Community. She sent me information in March about colon rectal cancer.
There were about 20 young ladies there from many different schools including Pattengill Middle School in Lansing.
Of course, I started out asking them what they remembered from Dr. Weatherspoon’s talk. With children, if you do not ask them questions, they will forget. I was lucky that I had CD’s, and posters of some of radio’s top 40 performers.
You should have seen their eyes perk up when I pulled out Da Band and 50 cent posters. What ever it takes right. I could see their minds working.
After answering a few questions including how many grams of dietary fiber should they eat each day, I exclaimed, “My name is Rina Risper. When I was just out of high school I found a lump in my breast.”
Actually, the doctor found lumps in my breast. I was getting a routine gynecological check up, which I did quite regularly but breast exams were something that I only thought that older people had to do. Who me? I was too young to have lumps in my breast.
When my young doctor, discovered the lump in my left breast, he checked the right when he checked the right breast he found another lump. Mind you, I am 17 years old and I did not know anything about breast cancer and at the time, I did not know anyone who had survived breast cancer.
After the young doctor discovered the lumps in my breast, he checked my neck and said he would be right back. It seemed like he was gone forever.
I checked my breast and sure enough there was a round rubbery ball floating in my left breast and a smaller one in my right. I checked my neck and while I was checking my neck the doctor walked in with three other doctors.
They poked and prodded and told me that I also had lumps in my neck. I was very
frightened, I was at the doctor by myself. I was young, I just learned how to drive.
I went home with instructions to come back to the young doctor for further analysis. I was shaking. I was supposed to go to work and I called my supervisor, Joann Thigpen, and told her, "They found lumps in my breast and neck."
She said, "We are going to pray for you."
I waited for my mother to come home from work and when she did. I could not tell her then. Can anyone tell me why it so easy to tell other
people our problems but not our parents?
The next morning when I got up, I told my mother.
She told me that she had lumps in her breast too but they were benign(not cancerous).
My question to her was why didn’t you tell me and what do we do next?
That day she made an appointment for me to see Dr. Alfred Cave, who was a Black surgeon. He is retired now. I called the center where he used to work but I couldn’t get in touch with him. I wanted to thank him. He
told me not to worry and that I was young. I thought to myself, “Young what does that have to do with the tea in China?˜ I have a lumps in my body. I was a real drama queen back then (Hmm, I wonder if my daughter is early payback).
He poked and prodded too, but differently from the first doctors who scared me half to death. As he touched my breast the second time around he explained all of the parts of the breast. He told me that the lumps did not feel cancerous and also that I did not have any abnormal lumps in my neck. A second opinion, come to find out the other doctors were learning.
He said that I probably had fibroadenomas which are the most common benign tumors found in the female breast. They are solid, round, rubbery lumps that move freely in the breast when pushed upon and are usually
painless. Fibroadenomas are the result of excess formation of lobules (milk-producing glands) and surrounding breast tissue. They occur most often between the ages of 20 and 30 and are more common in African-American women.
He patted me on the shoulder and scheduled me for a biopsy to remove a sample of cells or tissue from both breasts. Just to be sure. I was looking at him like he was crazy for being so calm.
I had my biopsy and it came back negative but he scheduled me for surgery to remove the lump in my right breast because it was big.
I was scheduled to go to the hospital on September 27, 1985. My arrival to the hospital was less than thrilling because I remember a terrible rainstorm. I checked in and my mother left. I had a roommate for some reason I believe her name was Olive. I do definitely remember that she was Irish.
When I arrived there were several people around her bed. I vividly remember her bright red curly hair and her freckled pale skin. She had a lot of personal items around her bed which told me that she had been there for a long time.
She was Catholic. I could see and hear the priest praying over her along with some other family members, it was dark outside. I can still see in in my mind the lights were dim and it was a little strange.
There was a large brass cross draped with rosary beads. She looked really tired and her family was distraught.
I was always inquisitive and could not wait to speak with her to find out what she was in the hospital for. When her guests left, she fell asleep.
When she woke up, I had a chance to talk to her. She told me that she was in her 20’s and she had a cancerous tumor in her breast the size of her fist. I remember her balling her fist up and shaking it at me. She told me
that she was going to die and that was why the priest was there. I was in shock!! I told her she was going to be all right.
She told me again that she was going to die, and that she was all right with
that. Today, I still can see Olive sitting in her bed eating something, I can’t remember exactly what it was but she was smacking up a storm. We were more frightened of the storm going on outside. We both fell asleep realizing that we had a little in common.
However, we were both young and we had issues with our breast. Our breast which society says makes us who we are, our breast which society says they have to be perfect or hide them. Our breast which we were both ashamed to touch and began touching them more than normal after finding out we had lumps.
On the night of my arrival, Hurricane Gloria also arrived. She was one of the most intense and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. Gloria ranked as the 16th most-intense land falling hurricane. Hitting as a Category 3 on the hurricane damage potential scale, and the 13th costliest hurricane in U.S. history with damage totaling about $900 million.
Gloria killed eleven people in the USA; 6 in Connecticut, 2 in Rhode Island, 2 in New Hampshire and 1 in North Carolina.
When Olive and I woke up the nation’s Eastern Seaboard was tore up Long Island and the hospital was working with generators. The hospital informed me that they contacted my parents the night before and I had to go home. I was sent home because my need for surgery was not a life and death situation. Olive stayed.
I went back several weeks later and had my lump removed. Dr. Cave with a mask on his face patted my shoulder on my way out and told me that I wouldn’t even notice the scar. I have an incision that goes around my
areola it is about two inches long. He is right you can hardly see it, but I know it is there. For a very long time, I felt like there was a space in my breast.
I asked Dr. Cave about Olive and she did die. When originally writing the speech, I spent hours and hours researching to find out when she died, what her last name was and everything else I could find out. I wanted to
tell her family that I still remembered her. I also wanted to call Dr. Cave and tell him that when I got pregnant and breast fed the lump in my right breast went away. I was always self conscious about my breasts after having the lump removed. Now I don’t event think about it. I had not even thought about Olive until Dr. Williams started talking to me about the event. I wished I was journaling back then.
Dr. Cave was really cool he even showed me the lump, it was in a baby jar. I wanted to take it home with me to study its properties and he said I could not have it. I told him that people get to take their old parts home when they go to the auto shop. He laughed at me and shook his head. I was such a nerdy geek back then.
There are several common causes of benign breast lumps, including normal changes in breast tissue, breast infection or injury and medicines that may cause lumps or breast pain.
Breast tissue changes during a woman’s entire life. It is particularly sensitive to changing estrogen and progesterone hormone levels during the menstrual cycle.
They say you should examine your breasts once a month, three to five days after your menstrual period ends. If you have stopped menstruating, perform the exam on the same day of each month, such as the first day of the month or a day easy for you to remember, such as your birth date. With each exam, you will become familiar with the contours and feel of your breasts, and will be more alert to changes.
I say to examine your breast every time you take a shower. I say also love yourself and your body shape. Regardless, of what you may think when someone mentions a positive there is always a negative that can follow the comment. Love yourself and your body and stay in touch with yourself mentally and physically.
I thought I had no experience with breast cancer because I had wanted to forget or I allow others to just tell their stories without telling mine.
I met Willie Paulsen, my blond haired blue eyed Mother (she is a perfect surrogate for mine) at the Making Strides Against Cancer walk on October 13, 2001. She was on the Capitol lawn giving massages and told me that her mother passed away from cancer.
On that day, I saw that we were all connected in one way or another, which is one of the motto’s of The New Citizens Press. I saw black, brown, yellow and white skinned people passing under those balloons. I saw young, old, mothers, doctors, athletes. At that time, I felt such an overwhelming feeling of success for the cancer survivors who crossed the under the pink and white balloons.
Timing is so strange. I was talking to Dr. Williams about breast health and a few weeks later I spoke to her again and told her that we had a poet whose mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
So the mention of having a fundraiser for breast health was all that was needed. I found out that another poet, her mother and her aunt, live under with the fear of breast cancer because of lumps in the breast that were found to be benign.
Am I making myself clear!!! We probably do know someone with breast cancer, some type of cancer or someone who has had a loved one who has struggled with it. The One Mic One Life Breast Cancer fundraiser is going to be a coming together of people to support the community’s fight against breast cancer. It is honor of all those who have survived and will survive because of research. Our goal is to raise $2,000.00 come out and support us.
Rina N. Risper
P.S. Look for us this
summer around town!!!
Stop complaining about not having anything to do and do something that will make a difference. I am tired of people telling me how people in Lansing don’t support each other. PROVE THEM WRONG!!!